The Butte aux Cailles started out as a working-class village that sprang to house the workers of the factories that used to dot the 13th arrondissement. It was one of the last strongholds of the Paris Commune revolt in 1871 and was largely untouched by the Haussmanian remake of Paris into the city we know today. Today, the neighbourhood has both a Bohemian flair, with its neat boutiques and bars – with nary a chain store in sight – and a small village feel, with its narrow streets dotted with children playing. Best of all, the crowds of tourists and the multilingual menus advertising steak frites and onion soup seem to have stayed in the Quartier Latin.
Since we were only in Paris for one day, I decided it would be fun to explore a place we haven’t been before and that seemed to be so different from the places where we usually hang out in Paris. But before, we had some errands to make. After a nice lunch a Chez Janou and a stroll through the sun-filled Place des Vosges, we went to the SNCF store to pick up our Montpellier-Barcelona train tickets. We had to wait for a good half an hour, long enough for the tiredness of having had only 3-4 hours of sleep to hit us. Since it was only 2 pm, we decided it was safe enough to go for a short nap before hitting Butte aux Cailles. It was a good idea and it revived us a bit for the rest of the day.
To get to Butte aux Cailles, which is not too far from where we were staying, we took the metro to Place d’Italie and walked down Rue Bobillot a few blocks until we got to Rue de la Butte aux Cailles. We walked up and down until we were beckoned by L’Oisive Thé, a nice little tea house. They had an extensive selection of nice teas from many local Parisian tea suppliers and a few good desserts. I’ve learned to really love a nice loose leaf tea over the years and Paris is a great place to get some good quality teas. When I have time, I stock up at places like Marriage Frères or Le Palais des Thés. Although they didn’t have the savoury scone I craved, the owner’s suggestion of the cranberry-orange scone did not leave me disappointed. It was smooth with just the right hint of tartness from the cranberries. Yum. Alan’s chocolate cake was served with a bit of mango ice cream that was divine. Both desserts were accompanied by fresh fruits. We lingered at the place long enough to find out that it was the owner’s birthday, that she’s from the US and married to a Frenchman. Her French was certainly impeccable. At some point her husband arrived with heir 14-month-old son, Maximilien, who was a very happy and curious little kid. I bought some tea for our friends Jackie & Sebastian, and we then left to explore some more.
We walked up and down the streets. Around 6 pm the whole place came alive as people flocked to the local bars to enjoy happy hour and parents picked up their kids at the local schools. We sat at a local bar and watched as people filled the side walks. At 7:30 we went to the local creperie on Rue e la Butte aux Cailles and had some amazing crêpes. After our copious lunch and afternoon snack, we wanted something light and the crêpes were certainly a good choice. They were filling, however, and we weren’t able to order a dessert crêpe. Oh well, a reason to go back…
We were back at our hotel around 9 pm, we watched some tv (a Quebec show – in French – with French subtitles!) and hit the sack around 10:30. I mostly slept through and we got up at 7 am, packed our bags, had breakfast at the hotel and after stopping at a local bakery for some sandwiches for the trip (you think airplane food is bad? don’t try train food!) and off we went to Gare de Lyon to catch the TGV to Montpellier, where we would switch to a RENFE train to Barcelona. Next stop – Wushu.